Color pattern variation forms local background matching camouflage in a leaf-mimicking toad

Jim B Barnett*, Konstantinos Michalis, Nicholas E Scott-Samuel, Innes C Cuthill

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)
48 Downloads (Pure)


Optimal camouflage can, in principle, be relatively easily achieved in simple, homogeneous, environments where backgrounds always have the same color, brightness, and patterning. Natural environments are, however, rarely homogenous and species often find themselves viewed against varied backgrounds where the task of concealment is more challenging. One result of variable backgrounds is the evolution of intraspecific phenotypic variation which may either be generalized, with multiple similarly cryptic patterns, or specialized, with each discrete color form maximizing concealment against a single component of the background. We investigated the role of phenotypic variation in a highly variable population of the Neotropical toad Rhinella margaritifera using visual modeling and a computer-based detection task. We found that phenotypic variation was not divided into discrete color morphs and all toads were well camouflaged against the forest floor. However, although the whole population may appear to consist of random samples from the background, the toads were a particularly close match to the leaf litter, suggesting that they masquerade as dead leaves, which are themselves variable. Furthermore, rather than each color form being equally effective against a single background, each toad was specialized towards its own particular local surroundings, as suggested by a specialist strategy. Taken together, these data highlight the importance of background matching to a nominally masquerading species, as well as how habitat heterogeneity at multiple spatial scales may affect the evolution of camouflage and phenotypic variation.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1531-1540
JournalJournal of Evolutionary Biology
Issue number10
Early online date31 Aug 2021
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 31 Aug 2021


  • camouflage
  • background matching
  • crypsis
  • habitat heterogeneity
  • masquerade
  • polymorphism


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